St. Ignatius of Antioch – Martyred for the Faith
“I have no pleasure in the food of corruption or in the delights of this life. I desire ‘Bread of God’ which is the Flesh of Jesus Christ, who was the ‘Seed of David’ and for drink I desire His Blood, which is incorruptible love”.14
St. Ignatius was the holy fiery bishop of Antioch in the late First, and early Second Centuries. It is believed, he had a personal relationship with Sts. Peter and Paul; it has been written it was Peter who recommended Ignatius to be the second Bishop of Antioch, a post which he held for 40 years. There are also narratives about his knowing and visiting Our Lady. Well, think about it; he was part of that time, just after the Crucifixion of Our Lord Jesus; he was part of that great rush of excitement of the early community of believers.
He was a powerful disciple, although he never took credit for it. He is considered the most important pastor in the post- Apostolic era. He was the first and strongest Defender of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist against heretics, of that very early time in the church, who denied that Jesus had both a physical Body and Spirit (Docetism), and that, therefore, we do not receive the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist, because He never had a Body. St. Ignatius battled against these heretics throughout his entire ministry, even as he was being carted off to Rome to be thrown to the wild beasts in the Amphitheater. He wrote letters defending the Real Presence of Jesus to various Bishops of the Church in Asia, condemning the heretics and the errors they were spreading about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Now, what happened next is something only the Lord could do. You know the saying, “God works in mysterious ways”? Well, this is a perfect example. In Antioch, Ignatius was condemned to be sent to Rome, where he was to be thrown to the wild ferocious animals, to be devoured by them in the Coliseum or Amphitheaters. They also hoped that he could be used as a powerful example to the Christians about what happens
to anyone defying the Emperor, no matter how important he is. As an important member of the Christians, if they could persuade him to save his life by hailing the Emperor instead of Christ, they would be able to control them and kill this movement that they could not squash, even by the threat of the Coliseum.
He was a big figure in the church. So you would think they would send him on an express boat directly to Rome. Right? Wrong! They sent him on the equivalent of what we would call today a “cattle car” or “banana boat”, or a local train. It made every stop possible all over Asia on the way from Antioch to Rome. News of his arrival at various cities got to the various cities before he did. As his ship docked each time, at the various cities, the Faithful came to meet and listen to him preach on the Reality of the Eucharist, of the Lord Who is with us. It was as if, the Emperor sent him on a final missionary journey at the expense of the state, on his way to Rome.
His writings have always been considered important and authentic, because they were actually taken from the time of Jesus. Ignatius lived in that period of the Infant Church, during the Acts of the Apostles, and the missionary journeys of Sts. Peter and Paul, Barnabas and Luke, Mark, St. John and all the early evangelists. What we receive from the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch about the Eucharist, are not teachings which were handed down to him. He got on-hands training. He was there when they were being taught for the first time. We’ve only picked out a few of his teachings about the Eucharist. They are powerful:
“Make an effort, then to meet more frequently to celebrate our Lord’s Eucharist and to offer praise. For when you meet frequently in the same place, the forces of Satan are overthrown, and his baneful influence is neutralized by the unanimity of your faith. Peace is a precious thing; it puts an end to every war waged by fallen angels or earthly enemies.”
“Take care, then to partake of one Eucharist; for one is the Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one the cup to unite us with His Blood, and one Altar, just as there is one bishop assisted by
the presbyters and the deacons, my fellow servants.”
When St. Ignatius was on his way to be martyred, he begged his followers not to interfere. His only request was:
“Only pray for me that God may give me grace within as well as without, not only to say it but to desire it, that I may not only be called, but be found a Christian. Suffer me to be the food of wild beasts through whom I may attain unto God. I am God’s grain and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.”15